Archive for the ‘Jobs’ Category

Gotham Diary:
27 October 2011

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

“It’s a living.” People who say this about their lines of work are usually doing pretty well. That would include having enough to set aside for retirement and so forth. Everyone’s idea of “a living” is idiosyncratic, but the range of incomes that gratify everyone’s sense of sufficiency, at least in any given place, is probably not so great that we can’t wrestle forth a concept of the “living” as a basic economic metric. As the basic economic metric.

My curious line of thinking was prompted by an entry at Felix Salmon’s blog that I won’t go into; the point that shocked me was that he, and The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki, whose column Felix was referring to, measured the size of companies in dollars. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, I suppose, but I can’t see why you’d bother, when the far more important thing about businesses is how many people they employ — and, I quickly qualified, employ at a living wage. How many livings does a company support? This isn’t the same as “jobs” — not, especially, in today’s sharply downsizing world. There are lots of jobs out there, you’ll hear, but they don’t necessarily provide the people who take them with the wherewithal to support themselves. (Which, in the case of a full-time job, is simply slavery.) Conversely, there are, in Felix’s sense, a lot of big companies out there, but they’re pouring heaps of money into not very many pockets.

I leave the calculation of the living, and its component parts, for another day. It’s complicated, obviously. But it covers the costs of a reasonable, health-standard-informed provision of food, clothing and shelter, and it’s adjustable to meet the needs of parents and children. (It occurs to me, off the top of my head, that money not distributed to childless people would be allotted, in their name, to public purposes.) A living would also include, directly or indirectly, coverage for health care, retirement, and more general civic services such as education and public transport. We can crunch the numbers some other time, and we can be assured that earning more than a living will not be prohibited. (Earning a larger income at the expense of others’ livings, however, would be something else — as I say, it’s complicated. But it’s not unfathomable.)

What’s important now is to attach the concept of the living to environmental problems. When people voice concern about population increases, they’re usually worried about overconsumption of food and natural resources. That’s not what worries me, though. I’m afraid that we face a future in which there is nothing for a lot of people to do. Forget the question of supporting them; you can’t have a world of permanent vacationers (see WALL*E if you harbor any fantasies on that front). People need meaningful work along with livings. Well, they do now, now that we’re rightly squeamish about sitting back and letting peasants struggle with the elements. We need to have a better idea of how many livings our economies can support.

The word “economy” itself points in the direction of a livings-based policy. Wikipedia:

The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek οἰκονομία (oikonomia, “management of a household, administration”) from οἶκος (oikos, “house”) + νόμος (nomos, “custom” or “law”), hence “rules of the house(hold)”

Let’s think about it.

Big Ideas:
The Rentier Party
Friday, 17 June 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Last week, Paul Krugman published a column that caught my eye. I don’t read Krugman as a rule, because I already agree with what he has to say, and it irks me that anyone who doesn’t wields any influence in Washington or elsewhere. But I read Friday’s column because its title, “Rule by Rentiers,” not only coincided with my own ideas but struck the same new note: “rentiers.” It had occurred to me only days earlier that the Republican Party, which used to be the party of business, had become the party of rentiers. As Krugman suggests, it’s not just Republicans. It’s political elites everywhere in the West. All seem to be in the pockets of wealthy people whose wealth no longer derives from personal effort.

A word about the word, which means the opposite of its English false-cognate. Rentiers, unlike renters, own things, and their income is derived from the “profits,” or surplus revenue, that their properties generate, whether they be farms, mines, or investment portfolios. (You might say that the French simply looked at the rental process from the other side; a rentier is someone who rents property out; our renters pay rent — to rentiers.)

I don’t mean to demonize rentiers. There may be nothing admirable about living on interest and dividend payments, but there’s nothing shameful about it, either. The mystery, though, is why leaders are attending to rentiers on the one subject that rentiers care nothing about, jobs. In the rentiers’ paradise, there would be no workers, only robots. There may be nothing wrong with that prospect, either. But surely in any discussion of serious social issues such as employment and health care, a class with every reason not to sympathise with workers ought to have a very limited voice at best.

Yesterday, an even fresher insight blossomed on the one that I shared with Paul Krugman. The men and women who run this countries large corporations (whether as executives or board members) are often members but always agents of the rentier class. That is why they are paid without any regard to their firms’ official profitability. Corporations are only incidentally commercial nowadays. They’re primarily strip mines for wealth whose operations are protected from outside interference by the executive class. It is the same with the big bankers. None of these people is any more interested in business as we know it than a medieval duke.

I don’t fear rentiers themselves. They’re not, as a rule, very bright — that’s how they dragged us into the credit collapse of 2008. As oligarchs, they have little solidarity except when under attack; getting them to agree is like herding cats. Except with regard to two things: the sanctity of contract in good times and an entitlement to bailouts in bad times.

The problem is that American campaign-finance laws have allowed the rentier class to buy the allegiance of the political class. The rentiers are the only people who can foot the bill of our preposterously bloated campaign-advertising programs. Rentiers also fund the think tanks that foment voter dissatisfaction with progressive causes. Rentiers have little interest in the social questions, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, that mobilize Republican Party supporters. But their spokesmen have astutely welded socially conservative issues to the economically regressive ones that mean a great deal to rentiers, and in this they are helped by the fact that economic progressives tend to be social progressives as well.

The only hope for a progressive party in America is to develop a genuine and knowledgeable passion for every kind of business except the conglomerate kind (which is no business at all). An economy of healthy businesses is the sine qua non of healthy societies generally, and it’s time for progressives to stop looking down their noses at people who are driven to earn money by making things and providing services. And to stop confusing these people with the three-card monte artists of Wall Street and their coupon-clipping (oh, for the days!) patrons.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009


¶ Matins: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals is eaten alive by John Williams, at The Second Pass, in a piece that begins with the surprised observation that Mr Foer does not mention Peter Singer in his book.

¶ Lauds: Michael Williams writes about the amazing Zildjian family, and shares some terrific clips. (A Continuous Lean)

¶ Prime: James Surowiecki addresses the debt bias in this week’s New Yorker, and in a background piece at the magazine’s blog.

¶ Tierce: While Choire Sicha rails against the “Swiss Drug Pushers” who run the United States government (at The Awl), Jonah Lehrer (at The Frontal Cortex) reminds us how L-Dopa really works.

¶ Sext: Unknown to Downing Street or the Palace, Margaret Thatcher dies. Meanwhile, Thatcher scholar Claire Berlinksi writes an article for Penthouse.

¶ Nones: Joshua Kurlantzick discusses President Obama’s trip to Asia, regretting that Indonesia was left off the itinerary and noting the dispiriting realism of Asian diplomacy today. (London Review Blog)

¶ Vespers: Grant Risk Hallberg’s long piece on myth and backlash in Bolaño studies serves as a toolkit to bring you completely up-to-date on a writer who, from beyond the grave, has excited a pungent array of macho responses. (The Millions)

¶ Compline: A story that we never thought we’d see: “Money Trickles North as Mexicans Help Relatives.” (NYT)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009


¶ Matins: What can you do to save the Galápagos Islands’ ecosystem? Resolve to stay away, and to urge your friends to do likewise. Don’t count on Ecuador to manage the growing mess.

¶ Lauds: Stuff White People Like takes on Banksy, Thomas Kinkade.

¶ Prime: Scott Shane: “Do Friends Let Friends Open Restaurants?” The answer is obvious, of course, but the brief discussion is interesting.

¶ Tierce: Jenni Diski plays Auntie Family, faux-outraged about those gay penguins

¶ Sext: Doodle away the afternoon with Vodkaster’s “subway map” of the 250 Best Films. (via reddit)

¶ Nones: Irish voters approve the (slightly revised) Lisbon Treaty.

¶ Vespers: Eric Banks writes about an uncomfortable truth in “Poe’s Fading Star.”

¶ Compline: A tale that seems to come out of Dickens or Trollope or perhaps even Cruikshank or Rowlandson: while Simmons Bedding faces bankruptcy, the private equity investors and the former CEO walk away will amply-filled pockets.


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


¶ Matins: Jonah Lehrer meditates, briefly but beautifully, on a connection between the recent findings about social networks (the viral spread of obesity, &c) and free will.

¶ Lauds: Barbra Streisand sings some great songs  (for a change) at a great venue — how like “the good old days” is that? (via Speakeasy)

¶ Prime: A disturbing report finds that the profession of journalism is no longer open to the children of working-class families. (via MetaFilter)

¶ Tierce: In the ancient port of Muscat, a photograph stabs an expatriate with nostalgic longing.

¶ Sext: The McFarthest Map, at Strange Maps.

¶ Nones: The decision to shut down two media outlets, already regretted by the Micheletti government, makes the fairness of the 29 November elections even less likely.

¶ Vespers: James Wood aims his gimlet glance at the novels of Richard Powers. A bit of ouch, what?

¶ Compline: Arthur Krystal’s essay, “When Writers Speak,” reminded us of a Bloomsbury anecdote.


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009


¶ Matins: The nation of which Amsterdam is the capital is rightly considered to be one of the most densely-populated sovereignties in the world. But it’s as empty as Arizona when compared with the former New Amsterdam.

¶ Lauds: On the eve of shooting Wall Street 2, Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas chuckle ruefully over the unintended aura projected by Wall Street, twenty-three years ago.

¶ Prime: Bob Cringely reconsiders the virtual university, and obliges us to do the same. What seems at first to be an unlikely monstrosity may indeed provide the most effective education for most students.

¶ Tierce: Assault By Actuary: the Bruce Schobel Story. Or not, since, perhaps for legal reasons, Mary Williams Walsh never does describe the crime of which the (then teenaged?) in-and-out president-elect of the American Academy of Actuaries was convicted.

¶ Sext: Tom Tomorrow catches up with Goofus and Gallant.

¶ Nones: The latest story on the Fall of Lehman Brothers, from the Guardian‘s Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor, highlights the soverignty problem in global regulation.

¶ Vespers: Ben Dooley offers a short list of books to read about Japan, in case you’re boning up for a trip. Read Murakami if you must, but for a real Japanese novel…

¶ Compline: In a Talk piece from this week’s New Yorker, “Zoo Story,” Lauren Collins registers the general public’s dislike of the seating arrangements in Times Square, as well as its approval of the Thigh Line and the Eyeful Tower.


Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, August 20th, 2009


¶ Matins: You laugh now: “The Inspector Clouseau of robot cops.” Wait till it comes back as Peter Weller.

¶ Lauds: A new blog to follow: The Footnotes of Mad Men. (via

¶ Prime: Are there really any such thing as “banking stars,” worth being hired away for that competitive edge? Jeffrey Pfeffer thinks not.

¶ Tierce: The irresistible Mr Wrong wonders why no one wants to shoot the breeze at Starbuck’s.

¶ Sext: Almost as good as “Rollo Tommasi”: When people ask where you’re vacationing next summer, just tell them, “Buss Island.” Tell ’em it’s the undiscovered Nantucket.

¶ Nones: North Korea will send a delegation to the funeral of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung.

¶ Vespers: Alain de Botton will be writing from Heathhrow Airport.

¶ Compline: That really was a storm on Tuesday night! More than a hundred trees were felled in Central Park alone. (Thanks, Tom!) (more…)

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, August 7th, 2009


¶ Matins: Food for thought this weekend: Alain de Botton proposes “A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success,” in a presentation at TED. The main point: make sure that your idea of success is your own idea.

¶ Lauds: Every time Jeremy Denk adds a new bit of music appreciation to his blog, the technical support gets better. Now, we think, it has caught up, in a piece about one of Brahms’s three sonatas for violin and piano (all beauties).

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon: “When Stretching the Accordion Makes Sense.” Makes sense! It sounds like the best idea ever. But it does pit one idea of growth against another.

¶ Tierce: Meet Judy Natkins — you can see her in court.

¶ Sext: For those of you who haven’t seen Elizabeth Moss off the Mad Men screen, there’s Amy Heckerling’s Intervention parody.

¶ Nones: We thought it might be Iran aiming to shut down Twitter, but it was more likely Russia and Georgia, trying to shut down one another — propaganda-wise, at least.

¶ Vespers: Some Friday fun from Tao Lin, at The Stranger. “The Levels of Greatness a Fiction Writer Can Achieve in America (From Lowest to Highest).”

¶ Compline: The weekend must-read: Jonah Lehrer’s “The Truth About Grit.” At last, a truly cogent demolition job on IQ testing (and testing in general).

¶ Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009


¶ Matins: Michelle Haimoff proposes a pay scale for HuffPost contributors. 

¶ Lauds: Nige makes me wish that I were in London, to see the Corot to Monet show.

¶ Prime: Carol Smith, an SVP at Elle, claims that women make better managers. Even better, she hates single-sex workplaces.

¶ Tierce: A Web log devoted to bookmarks found in old books (!) reminds us of telegrams at weddings. How old, we wonder, is the youngest person to remember this feature of wedding receptions? (via MetaFilter)

¶ Sext: Steven Heller explains the test pattern.

¶ Nones: An update from the country that can’t: Kurdistan.

¶ Vespers: “It’s enjoyable if you like reading Nexis printouts” — Nicholson Baker on the Kindle DX.

¶ Compline: Drake Bennett reports on some recent studies of attention deficits in older drivers — and how older drivers compensate. (via The Morning News)


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009


¶ Matins: Will George Dangerfield’s 1935 classic, The Strange Death of Liberal England (one of the few history books that everybody ought to read, if only because everybody who has read it seems to love it) be echoed by a book called something like The Strange Death of Labour England? David Runciman foretells.

¶ Lauds: Scott Cantrell wonders if piano competitions ought to take place behind screens (as orchestral auditions are); he doesn’t think that a blind pianist would have won this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition had the jury been blind.

¶ Prime: Andrew Price notes the gender gap in unemployment, at GOOD.

¶ Tierce: After Mily de Gernier’s testimony, prosecutors will have to rethink the top count in their indictment of Anthony Marshall. That’s the one that describes Mr Marshall’s sale of the late philanthropist’s Childe Hassam as “grand larceny.”

¶ Sext: Choire Sicha: Which gender is superior, and why this means holding women to higher standards.

¶ Nones: Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë has awarded the Dalai Lama honorary Parisian citizenship. Not an act of state, stutters President Sarkozy!

¶ Vespers: Stephen Elliott interviews Dave Eggers, at The Rumpus. Once Mr Eggers’s forthcoming book (Zeitoun) has been dealt with, the conversation turns, very interestingly, to print and poor kids.

¶ Compline: Alex Krupp shows how the Industrial Revolution’s grudge against human nature leads to intellectual impoverishment — via Benjamin Spock! “How intellectual pollution has crippled American children,” at Sensemaking.